As I sit here at my messy but sunny desk eating egg salad that has a slight blue tint for lunch, I can’t help but reminisce a moment about what a wonderful Easter our family had.
Not only did my oldest child arrive safely home from a 10-day excursion to build houses in Mexico (I have a half-written blog post about that experience somewhere) and I got to have a really good conversation with my daughter about spring and hope and church. But the sun was glorious and warm, and made us feel like we were practically on vacation when we sat on a friend’s deck and had brunch and drank rosé while the little ones ran around in the grass hunting for eggs.
Mid-afternoon we moved on to our next gathering with more good friends. In a life full of good friends and special occasions this particular tradition is really quite remarkable, and it’s one of the things that makes me love Easter in particular, and life in general.
We have been celebrating Easter with the same families for twenty years now. Actually, that should read that I have been celebrating Easter with the same families for twenty years, Rob has been in on it for more like 25. It started as an accident. Rob was living in Yakima, WA making wine at a beautiful winery there, but not really enjoying the community much. He often would come back to Oregon and spend weekends with friends or family. He was close to Marilyn Webb and Terry Casteel who are two of the four founding partners of Bethel Heights Vineyard – a gorgeous vineyard and winery in the Eola Hills – and a couple of years in a row happened to spend Easter weekend with them and their two young boys, Ben and Jon. After a few years of coincidentally getting together that weekend, they called it a tradition and started to plan it intentionally.
Meanwhile I was living in Chicago and selling wine. I represented a lot of Oregon wineries at the time, and one of them was Bethel Heights. Marilyn would come to Chicago 2 or 3 times a year to work, and we became friends. One summer I won a trip out here to Oregon for selling the most 1987 Bethel Heights Chardonnay. The prize was to attend the fabulous International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) and stay at Marilyn and Terry’s home. Coincidentally, a young winemaker named Rob Stuart was also attending the weekend-long Celebration. Marilyn introduced us to each other on Friday morning and the rest, as they say, is history.
A year later I moved out to Oregon and that was the first time I was included in the annual Easter gathering. It was small in those days. Just Marilyn & Terry and Rob & me. Their boys were teenagers by then and would drift in and out, but as I remember, weren’t too interested in joining us for dinner.
Eventually the annual gathering grew, as Rob and I became more settled in this community and our lives with the Bethel Heights families got more entwined. Pat Dudley and Ted Casteel are the other half of the founding team of their winery – Ted and Terry are twin brothers. Pat and I started to work together at the IPNC. She was the Executive Director and I became her assistant. The following year she bequeathed the job to me.
About that time Pat and Ted’s teenage son (also Rob) went to work for my Rob in the cellar at Erath Vineyards. Tragically, he died that spring, at way too young an age. While Pat and Ted mourned the loss of their youngest child, we anticipated the birth of our oldest. Joey (the same one who just got back from Mexico!) was born just 3 months after Robert died, smack in the middle of the three day IPNC event (and exactly on his due date). Pat was the first at the hospital to hold Joey, just an hour after he was born.
As our two boys got a little bigger, Marilyn and Terry’s simultaneously started to circle around more. Soon the two young men were hiding eggs for our toddlers, just the way Rob had hidden eggs for them 15 years earlier. Not much later Pat and Ted’s daughters, Jessie and Mimi, started to have children, and we were all gathering around for the great Easter Egg Hunt and and even greater dinner.